Over Taxicab & Limo Objections, MWAA Expected to Allow Uber, Lyft to Operate at Dulles and National Airports

by Sean Riley


Washington Post

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is expected to vote Wednesday on a plan to allow popular car services like Uber and Lyft to operate legally at Reagan National and Dulles International airports.

Under the proposal MWAA is considering, the ride companies would pay a $5,000 one-time fee for a special permit to operate on airport premises; drivers would pay a $4 access fee for each pickup and drop-off. The access fee likely would be passed on to customers.

Airport officials say they are aware of the growing demand for the app-based ground transportation choices and want customers to have access to the options they desire while also ensuring the quality of the services and passenger safety. The proposed changes would bring Uber operations in alignment with the requirements that other ground transportation services such as taxis are subject to, airport officials say.

Uber and Lyft support the proposal, but contend the $4 per-trip access fee ranks among the priciest in the country and say it will impact their customers’ wallets. The $4 price is a reduction from the $5 per-trip charge that was originally proposed in May. MWAA officials say the fee is comparable to what other big airports charge, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland.

Other airports, including Denver and Houston, charge access fees ranging from $2.15 to $2.75.

Transportation Network Companies, also known as ride share companies, argue they shouldn’t have to pay more than what taxis pay to access the airports. Traditional cabs pay a $3-per-fare fee to operate at National, unless it’s a prearranged trip, and they must wait in line to be dispatched.

In a letter to MWAA’s board of directors, Zuhairah Washington, general manager for Uber DC, said the proposed fees “would artificially inflate the cost of trips arranged through our low-cost uberX product. Indeed, we estimate that MWAA’s fees will lead to a 20-25% increase in fares for trips to or from National Airport arranged through the uberX product and a 10-15% increase for trips to or from Dulles Airport.”

“Hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors in the region depend on the reliability and affordability of (TNC) services. In our view, there is no sound policy reason why these individuals should be required to pay so much more to access this service for trips to and from the Airports than they would have to pay for a trip in a taxicab,” she wrote.

MWAA spokesman Christopher Paolino said the proposed fee was part of the public comment process and staff determined $4 per trip was appropriate. He said during the review process, MWAA reviewed not only comments from the industry and stakeholders, but also industry best practices and impacts of ground transportation on passengers.

Public hearings were held in June, where the board heard from rideshare drivers, executives and riders, as well as representatives from the taxi industry, which has long opposed the services.

At the hearings, taxi drivers and company owners protested the new services, saying they have an unfair advantage because they are not subject to the same level of licensing and regulation. New regulations at area airports would put them at an even greater disadvantage, they said.

Under the proposal, the airports would designate waiting areas for rideshare vehicles so drivers could arrange trips with passengers while already on the airport premises. This would help reduce customer wait times.The plan also would apply to traditional limousine services.

The proposed rules follow recent action in Virginia, the District and Maryland that allow the services to operate legally in those jurisdictions. If approved, the new rules would go into effect Nov. 1.